As churches emerge from the pandemic, we have seen church leaders head for the exit like never before. Ministry has never been easy. That’s an understatement. There’s no doubt that the last couple of years presented a challenge like we’ve never seen. There were debates about the types of precautionary measures we should take. Do we close down and stay online? Do we require masks at all services? Can we have small groups? Do we talk about the shot or is it the mark of the beast? And then there was the process of reopening or removing those safety measures. Some people were ready for them to go away months earlier. Some people said they won’t come back if you remove them. Some people promised they would come back when it all passed, but they never did. Most churches spent a year rebuilding their volunteer teams. Many churches still have not made it back to their previous attendance numbers. When you have put years of your blood sweat and tears into something, it can be discouraging. No doubt, we have come through one of the most stressful times I’ve ever seen in ministry. Which is why this topic is so important right now. If we don’t identify why we are so stressed and address those areas, we will burn out at some point. So why are you so stressed in ministry?
1. Not taking a Sabbath
If you have been in ministry for 10 minutes, you have figured out that ministry never stops. There is always something else to do. There is always something else to get ready for. There is always another needy person, looking to you for help. If you don’t take control of your schedule and create some margin, you will not rest. And, I don’t know if you have thought about it, but that is one of God’s top ten no no’s. That’s how important it is to God that you rest. Sunday is not a day of rest for you, so make sure you set aside another day for a day of rest. A weekday is often best. You may be thinking, “A weekday is not really best, because my kids are in school and my spouse works, so that won’t give me any extra time with them.” Exactly! What that means is that it is time just for you to rest and do something that recharges you. It will be easy to fill that day up with ministry when people ask if you are available to meet that day. You will have to be comfortable saying, “I’m not available that day.”
2. Not developing leaders
You may be stressed out because you have not developed leaders. Therefore, you are bearing the weight of everything on yourself. Before you think about starting any new ministry, you should first put all your effort into raising up a leader to start it and head it up. We often just start things and then hope we can find someone to put in charge of them. That usually leaves us spinning a lot of plates. If you aren’t designating a good part of your schedule to investing in new and current leaders, you will be carrying way more than you should. When you invest in growing leaders, you will be able to trust that entire areas of ministry are being done well, without you having to micromanage. If you haven’t already, I would encourage you to look at Mac Lake’s leadership pipeline material.
3. Not having good work/home boundaries
This one is subtle. In ministry, work hours can be flexible. If you need to run to your kid’s school for the talent show, you can do that. With all the technology we have at our fingertips today, we can work from anywhere and anytime. That can be a great thing until the lines get so blurred that you feel like work is always hanging over your head. I’ve noticed that some young families in ministry have a hard time treating ministry jobs like a real job. In other words, they believe that every weekday is flexible. Instead of someone picking up the Walmart to-go order after work or on the weekend like everyone else, the person in ministry can do that at 2 in the afternoon. Instead of mowing the lawn on Saturday morning like everyone else, the person in ministry can do that on Tuesday morning. I'm not saying there aren't really good reasons for those things to happen at times. These are just a couple of examples, and taken by themselves they aren’t a big deal. But when you add three or four more into a typical week, you haven’t gotten any work done. But you know that you work anytime from anywhere, so it’s ok, you’ll get it done. But when? Now you will feel pressure to get it done when your kids are out of school and your spouse is home from work. The whole time you are spending time with your family, you are thinking about all the things that are piling up. You are like a computer with a massive program running in the background. Most people would say that the flexibility of ministry should help relieve stress. I think many are missing this stressful hidden side.
4. Not scheduling your work well
That leads us right into this idea of scheduling your work well. If you are always just trying to knock off the next task when you get the next opportunity to sit down and focus, you will be stressed out. It is easy for all the little things to eat up all your time to the point that you never have a chance to really produce anything meaningful. There are certain tasks that should make it on your calendar weekly. If you have a sermon to prepare every week, you should set aside a time slot like every Tuesday morning to crank on that. If that’s not enough, maybe add a couple of more hours Wednesday morning to finish up. You will obviously have a regular slot for staff meetings. What are the other things that you can’t risk not giving focused attention to each week? Whatever those things are, put them on the calendar and don’t schedule over them. That doesn’t mean that you won’t ever have to shift them. But if you keep a routine, you will be way less stressed knowing that you have a time slot for getting the important things done. And when someone needs to meet with you in one of those open slots in your week, you won’t be uptight thinking about all the things you really should be doing. You will be able to be fully present with those you are ministering to and with your family as well.
When we don't schedule our work well and we are too flexible with our work week, we usually end up just getting the basic things done. What that means is we aren't getting better. There is no time to dream, pray and "work on the business, not just in it."
Obviously you could just be going through a bunch of unforeseen circumstances that are piling up and would stress anyone out. Our self-bias causes us to assume that this is the case. So before we just chalk it up to that, maybe would should look at these factors and see if there are adjustments that should be made.